You look down a lonely alley, and see a mutt rummaging through trash on the ground. It's slunk low with its tail between its legs. You feel sorry for it and approach softly saying encouraging words to soothe a hungry and frightened animal Then it looks up from the refuse it's sniffing through, and you realize it's not a dog's face staring at you, but a human one with deep-set, sad eyes. It's says, "Leave me alone."
Jinmenken are said to appear at night on city streets, or to run along darkened roadways fast enough to overtake vehicles while they make screeching noises. If that isn't surprising enough then they turn to look back at the drivers with their human faces, no doubt causing many accidents.
The origins of jinmenken are varied. Ranging from genetic experiments or the ghost of a person that was struck by a car while walking their dog. The concept dates back to the Edo Era (1603-1868) where sightings were reported in the local newspapers. In 1810, a "human-faced puppy" was exhibited at a misemono (carnival show) that traveled the countryside. They featured strange and bizarre artifacts and creatures. Sometimes they were taxidermy specimens, but there are stories of live jinkenmen as popular attractions of the show, and which were observed by several persons.
In the early 19th century, Ishizuka Hokaishi, a historian wrote a book titled Gaidan Bunbun Shuyo, mentions a story of a human-faced dog born in Edo (modern day Tokyo) in 1810. The owner of a misemono bought it where it became a very popular attraction.
Translated from a Japanese publication of those years, was an observation made by a visiting zoologist:
There cowering and whimpering in the corner of the display booth I saw the hunched over form of what I first took to be a typical shiba inu, although of a somewhat more pungent odor. Then the thing looked up with sad eyes and I could see clearly that it was the face of a human being, albeit with the empty, soulless gaze of an animal. I immediately assumed trickery upon seeing such an aberration, yet if one had forged such a horrific sight then they had done so with such ingenuity and craftsmanship that I was unable to ascertain it as such. If this was some sort of macabre taxidermy of a living thing, then it was done without any visible indication of such. I could see no apparent stitches or artificial connection between human face and dog. I was eager to be on my way from such a ghastly abomination and the thing’s gaze left me with a deep unease long after I had left.
There are other descriptions of those who have seen a jinkemen feeling despair and premonitions of impending doom. And in some cases seeing one is a portent of disaster not far off.
In modern times, rumors of a jinmenken circulated through surfer circles in the 1950s, then in 1978 it caused one of the most WTF moments in the Amercian film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a rise of sightings that caused excitement throughout Japan, especially among elementary school children. Newspapers and magazines published the stories of the strange creatures.
In this modern version it is a result of a genetic experiment gone wrong, and it fits into the yokai pattern of creatures with human faces such as the ningyo, kudan and others. Another explanation is that they are ghosts of a person killed while walking their pet or a dog possessed by an evil spirit.
Many believe the sightings of jinmaken originate with macaques which are found all over Japan, which in poor lighting could be mistaken for a dog with a human-like face. These primates are very bold in venturing into urban areas where roam around raiding garbage bins.
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